A Toronto police officer’s suggestion to York University students that women can avoid sexual assault by not dressing like “****s” has fanned controversy in the blogosphere, at York and among victims’ advocates.
Jane Doe, who won a landmark case against Toronto police in 1986 when a judge ruled she was used as bait to capture a serial rapist, said that unfortunately this was not the comment of “one bad apple.”
“In 2007, I was paid by the Toronto Police Services Board to monitor their sexual assault training for two weeks and the course is riddled with sexist and racist myths and attitudes about rape. I produced an assessment for them and it quickly disappeared.”
Rosemary Gartner, a University of Toronto criminologist, said linking style of dress to sexual assault is “ridiculous.”
“If that were the case, there would be no rapes of women who wear veils and we know there are rapes in those countries,” she said.
Meanwhile, the officer has issued a written apology and has been “disciplined” by police, said spokesman Mark Pugash.
Pugash would not elaborate or identify the officer.
On Jan. 24, two male officers from 31 Division came to a York safety forum at Osgoode Hall Law School.
Joey Hoffman, a residence fellow and member of the Osgoode student government, said only about 10 people attended but the room came to a stunned silence when the officer interrupted the more senior officer and made the reference to “****s”.
“You know, I think we’re beating around the bush here,” the officer said, according to Hoffman. “I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this, however, women should avoid dressing like ****s in order not to be victimized.”
The senior officer was silent for a moment and then picked up the presentation.
“I don’t think he was sarcastic or malicious. I think he thought he was being helpful,” Hoffman said.
York has been the scene of violent sexual attacks and robberies over the years, and has recently completed a safety audit in response to those crimes.
Darkshika Selvasivam, vice-president of the York Federation of Students, said she found the use of the word “extremely alarming.”
Linking provocative clothing to sexual assault “is a huge myth” and all it does is “blame the survivor of a sexual assault while taking the onus away from the perpetrator,” she said.
A university spokesperson also said the school was “surprised and shocked” by the comment, although it does have a good and collaborative relationship with police.
The student newspaper Excalibur reported on the comments and the controversy has “reinvigorated debate at Osgoode Hall,” Hoffman said.
“This line of thinking might have been acceptable early in the 20th century, but in 2011 it is so inappropriate,” he said, adding most students believe the comments were out of line.
Christine Hakim and Anastasia Mandziuk, co-chairs of the women’s caucus at Osgoode Hall Law School, which advocates for women’s issues, issued a statement strongly condemning police for the comment.
Toronto Police spokeswoman Meaghan Gray said cautioning women on their state of dress is not part of any police training.
“In fact, this is completely contradictory to what officers are taught,” she said. “They are taught that nothing a woman does contributes to a sexual assault.”